UNITED NATIONS —
U.N. Security Council diplomats have departed on a mission to the Lake Chad Basin in West Africa to see firsthand the security challenges and dire humanitarian situation there.
Envoys from the 15 nations of the U.N.’s most powerful body will travel to Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria on a four-day mission. It is the first time the council has made such a visit to the Lake Chad Basin.
“We know there are threats to international peace and security in the four countries,” council president and trip co-leader British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told VOA, in reference to the terror group Boko Haram.
“We want to shine a spotlight on those issues. We want to encourage donors to step up to tackle humanitarian issues. We want to encourage governments of the region to continue their robust activity against Boko Haram,” Rycroft said.
Since 2009, when Boko Haram launched its insurgency to create an Islamic state in northeastern Nigeria, it has caused severe humanitarian suffering that has spread to its neighbors in the Lake Chad Basin.
According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, more than two million people have been forcibly displaced from northeastern Nigeria since 2014, and nearly 190,000 have become refugees in neighboring Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
FILE - A family of refugees that fled their homes due to violence from the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram sit inside a refugee camp in Minawao, Cameroon, Feb. 25, 2015.
“I think there are a number of challenges that are basically coming together in somewhat of a perfect storm, with terrorism, trafficking, serious underdevelopment, but also effects of climate change,” said Carl Skau, Sweden’s envoy on the mission.
The council hopes to draw international attention to this confluence of factors that has exacerbated the humanitarian situation.
The delegation will arrive in the region just days after the U.N. raised the alarm that famine conditions are on the horizon in northeastern Nigeria – the epicenter of the insurgency.
More than 5.1 million people are severely food insecure in parts of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, and are at risk of a full-fledged famine within the next six months.
The United Nations has appealed for more than $730 million to help those affected populations this year.
While in Cameroon and Nigeria, council members plan to visit camps for the displaced to see the situation first hand. They also will meet with senior government officials in each of the four countries, as well as local leaders and members of civil society.
FILE - Chadian women walk past destroyed homes in the Lake Chad shore village of N'Gouboua, March 5, 2015, following a scorched-earth attack by Boko Haram militants.
Regional task force
In 2015, the African Union authorized a multinational joint task force (MNJTF) of about 9,000 troops from the four affected countries plus Benin to root out Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria and northern Cameroon.
Observers have said the results are mixed, with the force making some significant progress, but being hindered by its own lack of military coordination and confidence among the countries involved.
The council plans to visit the MNJTF’s headquarters in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena.
“I think regional cooperation and coordination should be stepped up, and we will be keen to explore further with the MNJTF and the four countries that we are going to be in what more they might want to do,” British envoy Rycroft said.
Although diminished from earlier levels, the threat from Boko Haram remains serious. Nigeria’s foreign minister said recently that some 26 million people in the region have been affected by the terror group, and 20,000 have been killed since it began its attacks in 2009.
“This cannot be a one-off,” Sweden’s Skau said of the mission. “We have to have a serious follow-up [in the council] when we come back.”